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State News

February 16, 2011

Texas leaders consider freeing more prisoners

AUSTIN — Texas lawmakers have been discussing the possibility of releasing more nonviolent prisoners early to help the state deal with a projected $15 billion budget shortfall.

The state does not have the resources to continue business as usual in Texas, according to John Whitmire, chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee

"Everything is on the table for discussion this year. Everything," said Whitmire, of Houston, whose panel oversees Texas prisons.

Lawmakers are considering whether nonviolent foreign citizens who are up for parole and old, ill convicts might be considered for early release, the Austin American-Statesman reported Tuesday night.

"Whatever we decide to do should not compromise public safety in any way," said House Corrections Committee chairman Jerry Madden of Richardson. "No one's in favor of that."

Police, prosecutors and crime victims groups are urging caution in paroling inmates.

"If they want to get rid of the dopers, OK. The drunks, hot check artists, the thieves, OK," said William "Rusty" Hubbarth, an Austin lawyer with Justice for All, a Houston-based crime victims group. "But they should keep all the sex offenders and the 3G (violent) offenders right where they are. They don't need to go anywhere."

A 2009 legislative study urged that additional medical paroles be considered.

Almost 12,000 foreign nationals, mostly from Mexico, are in Texas prisons. About 3,000 were behind state bars as of December for nonviolent or drug offenses, according to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. All were listed as parole-eligible and are targeted for deportation on release.

The newspaper said sending them all home could save more than $54 million a year.

"The big fear has been that the Mexican nationals would come back into Texas, but we could make it a condition of their parole that if they came back, they would go back to prison," said Whitmire. "My guess is we'd never see these people again. Prisons are no party in Texas. Why would anyone want to come back and risk going back in the joint for a longer sentence?"

Officials with Immigration and Customs Enforcement declined comment.

Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa of McAllen says nonviolent foreign nationals should be sent home.

"They're costing us a huge amount of money," Hinojosa said. "Let's get rid of them."

___

Information from: Austin American-Statesman, http://www.statesman.com



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